President Weah and Vice President Howard-Taylor and some members of the CDC

After decades of misrule, cronyism, insatiable loot of public funds, widespread corruption, a devastating and meaningless civil conflict, Liberia continues to remain strong and promising as a nation. This is a rare blessing that one would hardly find in countries that underwent a similar fate.  The question is: are Liberians taking advantage of this opportunity?  From the look of things, especially the kinds of perception the country is offering to the world at large, one would be inclined to believe otherwise.

In late December 2017, Liberians made a historic decision for the first time in electing an opposition party (the Coalition for Democratic Change) to take over from a powerful ruling party (Unity Party). Despite minor political differences and electoral grievances, the decision that Senator George Manneh Weah was president-elect brought the country together.

On Monday, January 22, 2018, distinguished and popular president-elect Weah and his running mate Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor (a result-oriented woman) were inaugurated into office to lead the country.  Even the devil was ashamed to see how Liberians pulled and held together to see this change––that a young man born to a very poor parent and from an indigenous Kru tribe;  raised in a Clara Town slum in the Liberian capital Monrovia had assumed the leadership of the country. To several kids and young people in Liberia, this was a defining moment, that no matter the social, economic and political status of an individual; the color of his or her eyes and skin as well as the spelling of his or her name or family history, as long as he or she works hard, is determined and does all the right things, he or she can become anything in Liberia.

With this realization comes a vast degree of expectations. Poor and ordinary Liberians, including the young men and women who grew up in slums like President Weah as well as the children who are still living in those slums, expect President Weah to deliver on his promises if any.  If there is none, these people still expect President Weah and his ruling CDC–led government to sincerely reflect a change from the past, rather than maintaining the status quo of continuity.

President Weah, the ruling CDC–led government, and the Liberian people have a golden opportunity to make Liberia greater if everyone works together, puts the interest of the country first, and chooses a path to national prosperity, economic growth as well as national and collective security, and peace.

It is important to understand that Liberia is not some utopic island or a nation in a vacuum. Our neighbors are advancing and making extraordinary socio-cultural, economic and political progress, but Liberia is, instead, depreciating in every domain. This is the wrong course and it must change for the good of the nation and the generation unborn.

To change this course, all Liberians, irrespective of their political alignments, affiliations, and thinking should support President Weah and the CDC-led administration. Equally, President Weah cannot just unseeingly obtain the support of all Liberians if he fails to lead, or continuously fails to surround himself with the best, brightest and honest analytical and innovative minds.

For a leader to succeed, he or she must establish and harness leadership and this requires bringing people around you not because they will blindly say ‘yes sir’ or agree with things even if those things are wrong and not good for the country. It also means making sure that the credibility of those individuals around the leader, their disposition, and sense of national progress, rather than singular satisfaction and personal aggrandizement, is esteemed.

As president and vice president, it is not enough for both President Weah and Vice President Howard-Taylor to invite, maintain and surround themselves with people they only know and like or have interacted or done business with.  Many leaders and governments failed because of this exact practice.  As internationally acclaimed, respected, loved and savvy some of our past leaders were or have been, this was their biggest failure.

Liberia could have avoided the recent current media and public relations disaster with the Liberian press and media houses like FrontPage Africa and other public interest groups if the Liberian government and both President Weah and Vice President Howard-Taylor had a knowledgeable, qualified and experienced public policy advisory team that will look more at the past and analyze current and future activities while simultaneously building and improving interpersonal relations and communications with different critical sectors of the country.

No one can doubt that President Weah and Vice President Howard-Taylor love and care about Liberia and its future and that they want to make sure that all Liberians have a better life. However, love and care for Liberia’s future are not enough to change the country and take it at the next level, especially so in an era when the world has become a global village with a single labor market due to global progress in technology, innovation, and communication.

One of the proudest accomplishments of any successful national leader, especially presidents, has been assembling an experienced, competent and knowledgeable public policy team to work with them behind the scene.  This team, usually headed by a senior policy adviser, does not replace the other advisers or the President’s cabinet.  Rather, it manages the flow of information to the president to serve his leadership and policy decision-making and coordinates the presentation of the principals’ advice and information to the president for the best actions on intergovernmental affairs, political affairs, public liaison, and communications.  Central to its work is deferring to the President’s sense of what he or she needs to make a decision.  The senior policy adviser needs to be the person who will spend more time with the president than any other member of the President’s group of adviser and the cabinet, providing the President with a wide range of options and a policy analysis of global and national events for the smooth running of the country.

President Weah and Vice President Howard-Taylor need a senior policy adviser and public policy team that needs to keep a low public profile and operate generally off stage; provide policy advice to the President in confidence, bring issues and options to the President and Vice President for decision – and not try to force a false consensus, and explaining the President’s policies to the public in an understandable, honest and appreciable manner.

From the look of things, this is lacking or not happening and so in less than 100 days of the CDC–led government’s existence, things seem to be falling apart as one bad news on top another ugly news comes out of Liberia every single day.

Whether we believe it, like it and want to hear it, the friction between the Liberian government and the media as well as the public sentiments of Liberian people have made the country to be downgraded in terms of travels, security, investment/business and more by many Western nations. This open-ended situation also serves as a distraction for the government. Such social and politically-related conflict is not good for the President and Vice President and it is not good for the country. It creates an image of disarray that undermines public confidence in the soundness and effectiveness of the administration’s decision-making process.

At the end of the day, the Liberian people are the ones who continue to suffer, and it should not be this way. Let the peoples’ vote not be a curse that punishes them. The CDC–led government must find a way to work with different sectors of the country, including the Liberian press and all others because together and united, we are strong as a nation, and divided we cannot succeed as a people.  This is obviously our main deficit as a country and people.

To address this deficit, two things must happen. 1) President Weah and the CDC-led government must put in place a public policy team, and 2) the Liberian people must be encouraged, assured and prepared to support the Liberian government. This, of course, requires a leadership from both President Weah and Vice President Howard-Taylor immediately, not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today.